Cord cutting head to head: Xbox One VS PS4

It’s the console war to end all console wars: Xbox One VS PS4. Go onto any video game website and you’ll be pummelled by fanboys for both the Xbox One and the PS4. The allegiances toward these pieces of metal, plastic and silicon are often perplexing for people that aren’t fully engaged in the gaming world. I get it though. You want the console that you shelled out close to $500 to be great. But the gang warfare that results online doesn’t really help people who are about to buy and are still weighing their options. Forgetting games for the moment,

How do these two consoles stack up in terms of value for cord cutting?

That is, hardware support, flexibility for streaming content and app support. Well, let’s take a look by the numbers. I highlighted areas that I see as a positive in green in the table below.

Xbox One VS PS4 by the numbers:

Feature Xbox One PS4
Bluray support Yes Yes
3D Bluray support Yes Yes
External A/C power brick Yes No
External hard drive support Yes Yes
Front USB port Yes x 1 Yes x 2
HDMI out Yes Yes
HDMI passthrough Yes No
Rear USB ports Yes x 2 Yes x 1
Ethernet connection Yes Yes
Infrared mini connector for control Yes No
Digital TV Tuner support Yes No
DLNA support Yes Yes
Optical digital audio out Yes Yes
Resolution output for video (max) 1080p 1080p
Native .mkv video support Yes Yes
Bitstream audio passthrough No Yes
Full OTA DVR support Yes (planned) No

As you can see, it’s a pretty fair fight. The basics are all there for both consoles. They both output beautiful 1080p video. They both have a healthy smattering of USB ports that can handle external hard drives filled with media. But there are a few areas of note:

1. Power brick

There’s nothing worse than a massive, obnoxious power brick. Unfortunately for Xbox One owners, it has a big one. It may not be an issue for you, but the PS4 has an internal power supply which makes it a cleaner design. Point PS4

2.  Front USB ports

Not a biggie either, but the PS4 has two front USB ports while the Xbox One only has one (which is actually located on the side). For most, it’s not a big deal, but perhaps it might be harder to reach the back of your console for whatever reason.Point PS4

3.  HDMI passthrough

Okay. This is where we get into some important differences. The Xbox One has a pretty revolutionary feature for media savvy folks out there.  It has something called “HDMI passthrough.”  This means that you can plug any device that uses HDMI into the back of the Xbox One and run that video source through the Xbox One interface. Ironically (for this blog at least) this is mostly demoed as a way to feed TV cable box content into the Xbox so you can have a single unified media system (complete with the Xbox One Guide which provides TV listings and DVR support). For us cord cutters this feature is really awesome for say, connecting your Chromecast or other media streamer that has some extra features that the Xbox doesn’t support yet. For example, the Chromecast supports HBO Now, so by plugging it into the Xbox you have essentially added this feature to your system. There are other, less sexy, advantages to this tech as well. I have an older home theatre receiver that only has two HDMI inputs, so having this extra one on the Xbox One is really valuable.  Point Xbox One

4.  Infrared mini connector

For those of you that use universal remotes or other control devices the Xbox One comes equipped with a rear IR port. The PS4 relies only on Bluetooth for control so you’re out of luck on this one.  Point Xbox One

5.  Digital TV Tuner support

This is a relatively new addition to the Xbox One’s feature list. We all know that Microsoft has been trying to position the Xbox One as an all-in-one media centre. Well, recently they added a feature that really pushes it even further in that direction, and it’s GREAT for cord cutters. For those of you who enjoy pulling HDTV signals over the air, the Xbox One now supports the use of a Digital TV Tuner which allows you plug your antenna directly into the Xbox One. This takes OTA viewing to another level, adding TV listings to the Xbox interface and just generally meshing free HDTV more closely into your media system.Point Xbox One

6.  Bitstream audio passthrough

Ok, this one is a bit technical but it could be a big one for a few buyers. Basically if you are into playing HD surround formats (Dolby True HD, DTS Master HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS X) then you are probably familiar with the idea of sending a bitstream to your home theatre receiver for decoding. This is actually the only way to properly play a Dolby Atmos soundtrack (which should become more and more popular over the next couple years). The PS4 has an option to fully passthrough these HD soundtracks to your receiver. While the Xbox One doesn’t currently support this. It’s because the Xbox One actually “remixes” the soundtracks that come into the unit so it can overlay menu sound effects and then spit out either a DTS or Dolby Digital soundtrack. Long story short, if you are a big audio dork, you may want to keep an eye on whether the Xbox One can add this feature.  Point PS4

7.  Full OTA DVR support

It was just announced that Microsoft will be adding full over the air HDTV DVR support to the Xbox One sometime in 2016. This will be a godsend for many OTA-loving cord cutters.  They’ll be able to schedule recordings and timeshift with the help of an external hard drive. Again, PS4 does not have OTA support at all, so this one is a major win for Xbox One (when it comes out).  Point Xbox One

Final Score

Xbox One:

PS4:

Wrap up

At the end of the day, everyone’s preferences are different.  If you’re not really into HDTV over the air, then it’s really a wash. If you absolutely need bitstream HD audio, go PS4. If you love playing Japanese RPGs with super complicated stories and flying air ships, well go PS4. Xbox One received backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games recently, which has nothing to do with cord cutting, but is super awesome. Ikaruga and Super Meat Boy anyone?

On the fence? Whether you get a Playstation 4 or an Xbox One, either way you’re going to get a real cord cutting powerhouse.

We didn’t even touch the different apps that are available for each device, which can be a real factor in choosing one platform over another. Stay tuned for a full video/audio streaming app comparison in the coming weeks.

Happy cord cutting.